OISTAT is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, twenty years of which it was a bridge between East and West. It was born out of the hopes of the Prague Spring of 1968, which also gave birth to the Prague Quadrennial. Now 30 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the World Association of Scenographers, Theatre Architects and Technicians celebrated this anniversary with weekly fireworks at events.
Host was the Royal Welsh College for Drama and Art in Cardiff. This college can undoubtedly be counted among the best theatre academies in Europe and was already the venue of the international OISTAT festival WORDL STAGE DESIGN in 2013.
The college was founded in 1949 as Cardiff College of Music. Later it changed its name to Welsh College of Music & Drama before receiving its royal title in 2002.
The university offers training and further education in the performing arts and technical theatre, with about two thirds of the 550 students studying music-related courses and the rest studying theatre and technology courses. It was the first and is only one of two All-Steinway Conservatories in the UK, together with the Leeds College of Music.
A £22.5 million expansion of the college opened in 2011, including two new theatres (Richard Burton Theatre and Dora Stoutzker Hall) and several studios.
In 2010, as part of the college’s 60th anniversary celebrations, college students performed in a gala concert at Buckingham Palace under the patronage of the college, the Prince of Wales.
This year the task was different: Review – Reflection – Determination of position – Appreciation – Renewal.
An extensive exhibition on the ground floor of the college covered a range of topics from a chronicle of important events of the last fifty years to current projects, especially in the field of scenography. Already here it became clear how the role of OISTAT has changed. From a “bridge” between East and West to an international platform with a special focus on theatre architecture and scenography. The DTHG had contributed various documents with its online OISTAT chronicle (chronik.dthg.de). Not only the first presidents, the former DTHG chairmen Walter Unruh and Helmut Großer, but also Karin Winkelsesser, who has accompanied the association in various functions for decades.
The subject of scenography took up the widest space both in the exhibition and in workshops and presentations. The discussion about the name alone illustrates the change. With more and more projects, stage design is changing into performance design or space design. Behind these English terms there is a change in content. Stage design and costume design classically drew their effect from the connotation of play, production, directing concept and presentation. For some years now, however, there has been a trend for designs to emerge without any reference to the content of a play or a production and to assert themselves as independent art. For example, a costume design cannot claim to be a work of art either for a specific figure of a work or for a performer alone. Even a decoratively designed element no longer takes up the stage space alone but uses the urban space of a city as an environment, for example. From here it is not far to object art, sculptures or fashion design. The discussion about where the borders run and how an assessment and classification is possible, occupies the artists worldwide and passionately.
In this context of creative confrontations, however, the technical and artistic areas also find their debates. Lighting design, sound design, the use of video and increasingly augmented reality also change the aesthetic scenic means and occasionally also lead to independence, which is sometimes far removed from classical theatrical means. This became clear in an interesting experiment:
Under the title In the Eye of the Tornado, a production of a theatre ensemble from Wales, the possibilities of its scenic presentation were tested in various workshops. Four variations of dry ice, fog machines, video projection and – most convincingly for me – the renunciation of all scenic means in favor of only the scenic representation by the ensemble with text and music.
In two further events called global community exchange, very personal memories and stations of OISTAT of the last decades were partly presented. Richard Thomas, sound designer from the USA, vividly described how in 1969 the use of the term sound design usually caused uncomprehending head shaking. In 2000 the working group was established in OISTAT and today many people work together in this worldwide network. At the last Prague Quadriennale this led to an independent sound exhibition and in general, the topics of acoustics and sound have become indispensable today.
Lin Xinglin (China) reported that the work in the stage-design/performance-design group contributed significantly to the foundation of the Chinese scenographic institute. Monique Corbeil of the Canadian association CITT described how the accession to OISTAT in 2001 inspired the association through a more intensive international exchange.
Ivo Ksersmaekers and Jerome Maeckelbergh made it clear that history is also appreciated in OISTAT. The Time-Line project and various events on the subject of historical theatre technology, such as Wood and Canvas in Antwerp, have shown this. Jerome Maeckelbergh had brought a self-built complete stage system to demonstrate baroque theatre technology to Cardiff. With students of the college he presented several times and always before full rows as by means of ropes, pulleys and drums stage platforms, sinks and flying machines completely handmade function. A big toy for all friends of manual theatre technology.
OISTAT President Bert Determann could rightly be happy and proud. The 50th anniversary celebration was very successful. In his statement he said:
OISTAT is a slow-working association. But it’s all the more consistent. In the 50 years many governments have changed and with them the support for international work has changed several times. But OISTAT has emancipated itself into a platform for international creative, artistic and scientific exchange. OISTAT are the people who belong to this association. They’re the center of attention, they give him the face.
With these people of this special network, the world association must continue to develop. In doing so, it must also take a stronger stance on cultural policy and strengthen and modernise its activities as a whole.
The next Prague Quadriennale 2019 and the Festival World Stage Design 2021 in Calgary will offer the next highlights.
Cardiff also hosted the annual meeting of the OISTAT Publications Commission. Elections for the new chairmanship were scheduled. DTHG Managing Director Hubert Eckart had applied for the position and was elected by the Commissioners in Cardiff. HubertEckart succeeds Carl Walling, University of the Cumberlands, Williamsburg, Kentucky, USA. As special important tasks he mentioned the further development of the translation program Digital Theatre Words as well as a more intensive international exchange of specialist publications. On behalf of the DTHG, he also invited the Publication Commission to the next Stage|Set|Scenery 2019 conference in Berlin.